Ida Rubinstein: The Final Act
The Playground Theatre
Reviewed – 27th September 2021
“With a touch more light and shade in the performances, the individual gems of this production will be able to shine”
In every era, there are always a few people in the arts whose life and career seem like something out of a movie or novel. Such a characterization can be applied to the dancer and actress, Ida Rubinstein; the Russian-Jewish ‘femme fatale’. A figure who commanded the limelight in Paris for nearly half a century, her name is somehow largely forgotten today, despite her varied career and fame throughout the first half of the twentieth century.
Born in 1885 into a fabulously wealthy family belonging to the Ukraine’s Jewish mercantile elite. Orphaned at an early age, the lucky child was raised in St. Petersburg by relatives who were firmly integrated into the social fabric of the Imperial Capital. Her arts-loving family ensured maximum exposure to the cultural activities of the city. While her talent could be sometimes doubted, it was her money, privilege and enigmatic beauty that bought her ticket into the dance and theatre world. She used these assets to great effect, courting and buying many influential men in her quest for beauty, art, and stardom.
“Ida Rubinstein: The Final Act” retells, in epic fashion, the scandalous life. A career that ran afoul of the period’s social prejudices. Theatrical choices that lead her family to commit her to an asylum; her bisexual love affairs, the assassination of her long-term lover and her ultimate selfless devotion to wounded soldiers in both World Wars. A daunting task for Naomi Sorkin the actor and former ballerina who takes on the role. “Where to begin?” she asks in character, addressing Edward Clément (Max Wilson) a reporter who has arrived to interview her. It’s a neat and deceptively simple theatrical device that allows Sorkin to vicariously dip into memories and reflections, combining music, movement and projections to reassert the legend that was Rubinstein. Wilson’s natural charm as Clément melts Sorkin’s initial reluctance to kiss and tell.
The painstaking research gives a true biography of the diva’s life, yet Sorkin’s performance lacks the variety and dynamism to show the true colours. The figures that weave themselves into the anecdotes are often more interesting. Darren Berry’s Ravel is a delight as he recounts at first hand the composer’s creative process behind his ‘Bolero’. And then meticulously plays it at the piano. But overall, the ambition of the piece exceeds the capabilities of this otherwise strong cast. Director Christian Holder has created something that could be very special indeed and with David Roger’s design, complemented by Declan Randall’s lighting, it is beautiful to watch. Yet somehow the feeling is one of witnessing the earlier stages of a devised piece, in which the ideas outshine the emotional impact. We are aware of the textures of this fascinating story but cannot yet appreciate the finely tailored result.
With a touch more light and shade in the performances, the individual gems of this production will be able to shine; perhaps even dazzle us. Ida Rubinstein’s colourful and inspirational life deserves to be written back into history but, as yet it’s still an early draft.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Gareth McLeod
Ida Rubinstein: The Final Act
The Playground Theatre until 16th October
Previously reviewed by Jonathan this year: